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Guest Column: State Sen. Tom O'Mara

"More thoughts on Monterey, Common Core"

ALBANY, Jan. 13 -- I hope I made it clear in the immediate aftermath of Governor Cuomo’s
fourth State of the State message last week that while the governor’s speech covered a lot of ground, as this annual address is traditionally meant to do, the following message from it deserves top billing: upstate manufacturing needs to make a comeback.

We’re smart, I believe, to grab hold of this possibility this year and take it as far as we possibly can. I’ll be doing just that. We haven’t had an opportunity like this one in a long, long time in New York government to change the game for upstate manufacturers—and, in turn, for local workers and families. We can’t afford to waste it.

So my overriding reaction last Wednesday focused, first, on Governor Cuomo’s focus on tax and regulatory reform actions to turn around the upstate economy, with a special emphasis on upstate manufacturing.

Now, a few other observations. One, criminal justice. Governor Cuomo enlisted the help of a power point presentation to stress the salient points of his speech. When he came to criminal justice, the following phrases scrolled across the screens in the room: “The good news is crime is down and our prisons have fewer people in them … We are reducing the madness of an incarceration society … Ending a system of unnecessary human and financial waste … The bad news is there is a revolving door where 40% wind up back behind bars … Reduced recidivism means less crime, safer communities, and fewer taxpayer dollars spent on incarceration.”

At which point I thought to myself, the governor himself is making a strong argument for keeping open the Monterey Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility. It was striking because, as we know, the Cuomo administration has targeted Monterey for closure later this year. Unfortunately, the governor didn’t announce a plan to keep Monterey open at the end of his power point. But he may have reinforced our case to achieve that goal.

For months now the case we’ve made for saving Monterey and the shock program hinges, to a great extent, on the fact that Monterey has helped to end, in the governor’s own words, “unnecessary human and financial waste.” We’ve more than documented that the staff and administrators of Monterey have turned around so many lives that were once at a dead end—and have done so while helping New York State save more than one billion dollars. I’d say that’s helping put an end to unnecessary human and financial waste.

We’ve highlighted reduced recidivism as a primary reason for keeping, not discarding Monterey. As the governor reiterated in his State of the State, “Reduced recidivism means less crime, safer communities and fewer taxpayer dollars spent on incarceration.” That’s precisely what Monterey has already done for more than 25 years. The governor highlighted a 40% recidivism rate for state prisons; the recidivism rate for Monterey is less than half that. It’s a proven success.

And, additionally, we know the great value of Monterey inmate work crews to infrastructure and other community enhancement projects across Schuyler, Chemung, Steuben and Yates counties – a benefit to local property taxpayers to the tune of more than $6 million over the past six years alone!

In other words, Governor Cuomo himself made a clear and convincing case for saving Monterey. To his credit, Governor Cuomo and his administration responded to our grassroots efforts to save the Elmira Psychiatric Center. We made a case on the merits. We’re making a similar case for Monterey, and we won’t give up on achieving the same result.

Lastly, for now, the governor was roundly criticized for failing to address the controversy swirling locally and throughout New York around the state’s new Common Core educational standards. This controversy is real and citizens in the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions are loud and clear about their opposition to Common Core.

While the governor stayed silent on Common Core last week, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver did not. He said, “I think the case has been made, if nothing else, for a delay and a reevaluation of the implementation of Common Core.”

I highlight the speaker’s comment because it strongly signals a growing consensus in the Legislature: Common Core goes too far, too fast. Senate leaders have already delivered the same message. In early December, I joined local Assemblymen Phil Palmesano and Chris Friend at a public hearing in Corning where several hundred educators and parents let it be known that the implementation of Common Core has been a disaster.

I can tell you that local sentiment is running strong against Common Core on my online “2014 Community, Jobs and Economy Survey” (which you can find on Nearly 75% of survey respondents so far are opposed to the new standards.

So the 2014 session’s off to a quick start. And it promises to move even more fast and furious in the weeks ahead.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara

Schuyler County Officials

Legislature Members:

Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Jim Howell, Michael Lausell, Van Harp

Bottom row: Tom Gifford, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Stewart Field. Not pictured: Mike Yuhasz (inactive)


Legislature Chairman

Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687

Legislature Members:

Thomas M. Gifford, 535-9517

Van Harp

Jim Howell

Barbara Halpin, 594-3683

Michael Lausell

Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen, 481-0482

Stewart Field, Watkins Glen, 535-2335

Inactive: Michael Yuhasz

County Clerk: Linda Compton, 535-8133

Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222

Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222

County Treasurer: Gary Whyman, 535-8181

District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383


State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County

Sen. Charles E. Schumer

United States Senate
313 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-3201
DC Phone: 202-224-6542
DC Fax: 202-228-3027
Email Address:

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand

United States Senate
478 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
DC Phone: 202-224-4451

State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)

Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12247
Phone: (518) 455-2091
Fax: (518) 426-6976

Assemblyman Phil Palmesano-- Steuben, Schuyler, Yates
Room 723, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12248
Phone: (518) 455-5791


© The Odessa File 2011
Charles Haeffner
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869